“(The BBC) agreed to consult with the community on the tone of the programme before broadcast to ensure sensitivities are respected”
As you read this, the BBC DIY SOS Big Build team are hard at work, rapidly erecting a new boxing gym and community spaces at Bay 20 under the Westway dual carriageway. The project will be broadcast on BBC One across two programmes: one on the Dale Youth boxing gym which was destroyed in the Grenfell Tower fire, and one on the other spaces being created, which include a cafe and meeting rooms. The BBC identified the need for effective community spaces in North Kensington, and the Westway Trust, custodians of the land on behalf of the community, have gratefully accepted the free building. There has been much disquiet about the project, summed up in our previous article here. Any project implemented by the state broadcaster BBC and the distrusted Westway Trust would inevitably be greeted with caution. But when the project has been inspired by the entirely preventable, man-made disaster at Grenfell, the stakes are raised further. It is not yet clear that the BBC has its heart or head in the right place to be bulldozing its way into the North Kensington community in the name of light entertainment. Read on… Continue reading →
DIY – Do It Yourself – “The activity of decorating, building, and making repairs at home by oneself…avoids the difficult relationship between householder and professional decorator”
SOS – Save Our Souls – An international code signal of extreme distress
The harassed North Kensington community is facing up to 14th June 2018, the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people and traumatised thousands more. Desperate for change, North Kensington remains under the yoke of the disgraced Conservative council after the May 3rd local elections. And now, more troubling developments: The BBC DIY SOS team is in town filming the “Grenfell community” for the lightest of light entertainment programmes, and the people of North Ken are once again trying to mitigate what could become a mess; Will they succeed?
The situation now
Bay 20, under the Westway dual carriageway and near the Grenfell Tower, is undergoing a rapid building development for the DIY SOS programme. The BBC have secured donations to pay for the Dale Youth Boxing Gym, lost in the fire, to be rehoused at Bay 20, alongside new community spaces, meeting rooms and a café. The building work begins on 15th May and the grand opening is slated for 28th May.Continue reading →
On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.
Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.
How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article.Continue reading →
After our recent interview with Westway Trust, this conversation took place:
Tom (slapping table with hand): “I think we’ve written as much as we can about this Portobello redevelopment. Let’s move on…”
Angel Lewis: “Yeah, there are so many topics we can write about, (gazing in to the distance) the whole human experience is open to Urban Dandy…”,
9th November, two days before the Westway23/Westway Trust public meeting at the Tabernacle, text message Tom to Angel Lewis: “WT have now pulled out saying they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their staff”.
Reply: “Seriously? Or are you kidding?”
Reply: “That’s what a guy handing out flyers just told me”.
We were forwarded an email exchange between the parties that confirmed that Westway Trust had decided not to participate, one of the reasons being cited was indeed the “well-being” of the WT staff, and they had instead suggested meeting a small group from Westway23 in order to provide more detailed responses to their concerns. No explanation for the sudden security concerns was given, nor was an apology.
Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser at Westway23 told Urban Dandy: “It is a degrading statement for them to make. I am personally insulted by the suggestion that any member of the Westway Trust would be unsafe in the midst of a community meeting I have been a part of organising, taking place at one of this area’s most venerated and well-run venues. I have attended countless meetings in this community in which I have only ever seen a put-upon community respond to issues with consideration and passion”.
He explained that W23 still received no apology. “Neither myself, nor any other member of Westway23 or its supporters, have received any reasonable explanation, let alone an apology for it, despite clearly communicating the distress it has caused”.
We asked Councillor Pat Mason, who is the Labour Group’s representative on the Westway Trust board, what he made of the no-show decision and whether it was symptomatic of a deeper malaise at the Trust. He told us: “I advised the trust Chair and Chief Executive to attend the Westway23 Tabernacle public meeting, saying they should not operate in a vacuum without the input of local people and without giving people the right to ask questions, scrutinise their actions, and to suggest what strategies the trust should follow for the future.
“Unfortunately, they decided not to attend because they are locked into the belief that local people should be commenting on and suggesting improvements to the trust’s proposals and strategies, rather than accepting that local people do not support what they are doing and have a completely different vision for their area. So any kind of strongly-voiced opposition to what is being proposed is experienced as unpalatable by trust directors”.
“This disconnect with the community is a historical problem born from the hijacking of the trust by Kensington & Chelsea Council from its inception and used as a vehicle to advance Council regeneration policies and to prevent real community representatives and groups, who were always branded as trouble-makers, from managing their own assets and making decisions beneficial to their communities.
For several decades, the trust has been run as if it were a castle bordered by a moat and peopled by the Council’s grandees who have ingrained their philosophy of neo liberal top down decision-making on the organisation which is a hard mould to break. The trust now has less Community representatives and elected Councillors, and more professional appointees on its board than it had a year ago. It was set up to go down the corporate route and that process will continue unless the local community backs up its wish for an alternative vision with real actions”.
Westway Trust send Urban Dandy this statement: “We took the difficult decision to withdraw our attendance from the meeting organised by Westway23 as we believed attending would not lead to constructive outcomes. It is unfair to expect someone to attend a meeting not knowing who is presenting alongside you, what the agenda is, who the audience is, who is facilitating or how it will be managed.
Having a community meeting is very positive and we support the principle, if you know the details and what to expect. We were informed about some of the details of the meeting from the Press ahead of being told by the organisers. There was always an air of mystery to the meeting, which did not encourage staff to feel confident about attending.
Westway Trust regularly liaises with more than 70 local groups and working with a small group of leaders, who have proposals to discuss, has proven to be the most productive way to make progress. We remain keen to have a meeting with a group representing Westway 23 at their earliest convenience.
We are committed to working collaboratively and positively with all local groups, including Westway23, and want to encourage those that attended the meeting on Wednesday to bring forward their ideas for improving the estate so that we can find a mutually beneficial approach.”
W23’s Toby offers a different route forward: “At some point an organisation set up to consider and listen to the community must do just that. It cannot continue to play politics and bury its head in the sand as people’s lives are threatened ever more seriously by economic and environmental realities. It cannot continue to treat people as idiots on the subject of their own lives.
Wounds, injuries, pain and injustice do not disappear through ignorance or denial. They only bury deeper and spread wider. Without beginning a fundamental process of healing and reparation, the damage simply continues down through generations. In my opinion, that is what we are seeing here and a genuine healing process is what Westway23 have been set up to assist our community in going through. We are trying to be open and honest and shine a light on uncomfortable truths that will hopefully reveal a better, healthier, more nourishing future. I hope the Trust can come around to being a part of that future and put the skills they do have behind those of the local community”.
13th November email, Tom to Angel Lewis: “I’ve written it up, but what would be a good way end to the article?”
Reply: “I dunno…we can say anything, we’re Urban Dandy…”
“To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide”
Our burgeoning blog has been full of reports of high levels of gentrification anxiety in North Kensington recently. London in 2015 has seen a new strain of hypergentrification take hold, one in which the victims are expected to stand impotent and mute watching their communities being transformed in to something different in which their needs are not met, but those of other, wealthier, groups are. Fears abound that North Kensington is going the same way as Brixton.
In this climate, The Westway Trust published its proposals for the mile of land stretching under the brutal A40 which dominates and darkens the area from Acklam Road down to the riding stables at Latimer Road.
Westway Trust are custodians of the mile, entrusted with making it work for the benefit of the local population. But the community group Westway23 has accused them of an “abuse of power” and an intention to betray the area by accelerating the gentrification process.
We wanted to put W23’s concerns to the Trust and give them a chance to give their point of view. We also wanted to explore the context in which the changes will be made and look at the limits imposed on local people by global forces.
We sat down with Phil Dibsdale, Senior Development Consultant of Westway Trust, who is heading the Trust’s programme of changes. Phil explains that he is born and bred in the area and remembers watching from his bedroom window as the Westway was erected.
Phil was joined by Martin Oxley, Head of PR and Communications. Our questions were plucked from our articles on the Westway23 protests, as well as some that arose in conversation:
Q1. Will you build ‘tired, top-down developments that could be anywhere in the world’?
WT: ‘We hope not. We hope to avoid that. Of course, we have to abide by building regulations and standards to ensure safety. We also have to work with TFL, who have a vested interest in what we do. But we’ll ensure that what we build has lots of uses, including on the Acklam site, which is currently underused.’
Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: ‘With Acklam, I grew up with it being a hub of hip hop, parties and graffiti; bands came up there who went on to be big. I went to the US for a few years, and when I came back, it was fenced off’…
Q2. What became of Acklam Hall and the playground? Are the fears expressed of a repeat of this history justified?
WT: ‘The playground was closed for health and safety reasons.
Acklam village is not commercially viable, Monday to Friday. It only has a license until 9pm and no sound proofing. The skate park, which is very successful, creates noise that bounces off the motorway and the timber structures. It has a negative impact on its neighbours.
We want to see live music at Acklam. Our current plans for Acklam are to have four bays:
One will be used for market storage,
A second will be a shop unit,
The third, which will be one and a half units, will be for community and cultural events, a white cube where you can do anything,
The fourth will be similar to what is already there.
We want to protect our tenants in the shopping arcade. They will move across to Acklam while we refurbish the arcade. Then they can choose whether to stay there or return to the arcade. With the new arcade design, all the shops will have an outward-facing front. Currently, business is poor because very few people explore inside the arcade’.
Urban Dandy: Will rents increase?
WT: ‘Rents will resume at current levels, but we will introduce a profit sharing system to help Westway Trust recoup its outlay.
In the past, things have happened organically, but it needs to be organised with a business plan. There have been a lot of white elephants over the years.
But this is not about taking a capitalistic approach. All the money is reinvested in the community. Of our 120 tenants, only one, Sainsbury’s, is a big high street chain, and it brings in a lot of money’.
Urban Dandy: But isn’t a Waitrose going up right opposite Sainsbury’s?
WT: ‘The council controls that building’.
UD: What they were saying on the Westway23 protest was: “What’s happening within the language is what was happening when Acklam Hall was closed. Words like ‘regeneration’ should be a warning to the community.” That’s the most specific thing I have heard: it’s the same language again and they lost those two venues previously, so are the fears expressed legitimate?
WT: ‘Obviously I wasn’t around then, so I can’t comment on what was said back in those days but obviously what replaced those things wasn’t properly built buildings they were for temporary uses and made without a strong business plan. That won’t happen this time’.
Q3.How aware is WT of the social cleansing going on locally? Do WT’s plans include anything that will offset it and help unify the community?
WT: ‘There are limits to what Westway Trust can do. We maximise the number of opportunities we can give to local people. We are creating 200 jobs, we’re keeping local businesses going and we have an apprenticeship programme.
The area was actually originally built for the gentry, with those big Victorian houses but then became a poor area. There is a recognition that demographics are changing in the area again. Demographics are always changing and we have to serve everyone in the community’.
Q4. How will local people be involved, aside from attending consultations?
WT: ‘Westway23 were invited to meet with us but didn’t turn up. They can be involved, but we will listen to the ideas generated by the consultations’.
Urban Dandy: You mention invites to the community to take part in the planning process; are you taking steps to attend and become part of the community’s groups and events?
WT: ‘Our Head of Culture and Partnerships is Lynda Rosenior-Patten and she is very active attending events, meeting people and organisations in the community. We have lots of partnerships with local groups and we use as many channels as we can to gage opinion.
If we were private developers, we’d have started the building already. But we have a democratic governance structure which means that community groups are represented. Westway23 were encouraged to sign up’.
Q5. Which groups are your priorities?
WT: ‘Our priorities are the people most in need and supplementary schools. The original area of the Trust was to benefit Kensington and Chelsea as a whole, but I think everyone can see that it is the North of the Borough that receives all of the benefit.’
Q6. Why didn’t you consult the community before drawing up the original plans?
WT: ‘From 2011 onwards we held consultations to establish the tone and parameters of the changes. There has been a lot of consultation and we then chose to put something out there, rather than just a blank sheet of paper. It was the culmination of four years of consultations’.
Urban Dandy: It can seem quite cold, as a resident, to receive a document with artists’ impressions of the plans. It’s easy to feel indifferent about it.
WT: ‘If people are just angry or against us, they can’t have that influence they want. We have spoken to hundreds of people and our Cultural Manager is talking to people with heritage in the local area.
Dialogue has to come both ways.’
Q7. What kind of feedback have you received?
WT: ‘A huge range. From the traders’ survey, we saw that people are desperate for change. Although not all of them filled out the survey’.
Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: There is a perceived division between the trust and the local community; if that division is bridged it may feel more like one organisation. Myself, looking at your brochure, I don’t feel included in this, it appears done, dusted and complete.
WT: Well you’ve got to be in it to win it, you’ve got to have your say and this is your chance to have your say.
Tom @ Urban Dandy: I went to a public meeting with the Kensington Aldridge Academy and they wouldn’t answer any questions in a straight forward way, and people were getting angry – they felt that they were being given spin instead of answers, what has been coming back to you from the public?
‘There’s been a huge range of feedback from people saying “why haven’t you done this already?” particularly the traders and local business owners, to people saying “don’t do anything, absolutely leave it alone”.
Over the last nine months with seven months’ of consultations going on, most people have recognised there is a need for improvements and that the market needs to be supported. But they are mostly concerned with keeping the character of the area. It’s difficult, it’s evolved over 100 years so when you try to build something with that character from scratch it’s not easy, but if we can build something with the look and feel of Portobello then it should evolve and people will grow to taking it on board.
The last seven months’ of feedback has proved to us that there’s consensus for change locally’.
Q8. Will flats for the rich and retail units for the middle class be built?
WT: ‘It depends what you mean by rich. There will be 12 flats built to be sold at market rate. This is for financial reasons, Westway Trust raises money for its community projects this way.
As for the shops, they will all be really small. To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide. People can go to Westfield to get all that stuff’.
12 affordable units is not going to change the tide of affordability and won’t make a great amount of difference to the area. They will look like what is already here. If it were the development on a large scale, like 250 units, then it would.
Q9. How do you feel your ability to fulfil your original mandate is being affected by gentrification and capitalism?
WT: ‘Westway Trust has to represent the whole community democratically. We have programmes to target those most in need. The public realm should make everyone feel safe and welcome.
But there are limits. Health and safety regulations have sterilised children’s play areas and brought about a lot of banality. There’s less sense of adventure’.
Urban Dandy: And gentrification?
WT: I don’t feel constrained by it, it’s one of those waves you can’t stop unless you have government intervention. Gentrification makes my job more of a challenge, and I recognise that for local people it is a real threat’.
Q10. The idea of a ‘village’ is not popular with Westway23 and it does seem a bit tired – any comment?
WT: We found some references to the area as a ‘village’ in documents written 20 or 30 years ago. It was only ever a working title for consultation purposes and it definitely won’t remain’.
And our time was up, we had to vacate the room for more meetings. A conversation that could have run all day ended, but as we packed up we had time for one more question to Mr Dibsdale: ‘Do you still live in the area?’
His reply: ‘I don’t. I can’t afford it to be honest’.
“Spaces for creativity, spaces for spiritual enlightenment, spaces for cultural celebration…”
Parts one and two looked at the Westway Trust’s initial proposals for the space under the Westway and Westway23’s response. But, what is Westway23’s positive vision? I spoke to Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser at Westway23, aware that the Westway Trust’s approach won’t be challenged effectively without a credible alternative.
“We want wellbeing through healthy minds and bodies that can fulfil Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. Also spirituality and a connection to the earth and a larger purpose. We want opportunity. Break all of that back down to concrete ideas and you have spaces for creativity, spaces for spiritual enlightenment, spaces for cultural celebration, spaces for education, spaces for socialising, spaces for health, spaces for innovation, spaces for the development of people in ways that do not limit their potential. All of it led by and initiated by people who are hardly ever given the reigns to such things”.
How does this contrast to what is happening at the moment? “This area – the Westway Trust and the council – sells itself for a dollar amount on the image of diversity and creativity. Yet those who are actually responsible for that image struggle to survive, let alone prosper”.
So what will work instead? “Let’s have a can-do attitude. A ‘Why Not?’ outlook for our people that extends further than tired, top-down developments that could be anywhere in the world.
The 23-acres of the Westway has always been there to fulfil the wants and needs of the local people and it has been kept away from them”.
To this end, Westway23 has organised itself in to five sub-groups: Marketing, Fundraising, Legal, Research and Alternative Vision, with members designated to each based on their area of expertise or profession. As well as lobbying on behalf of the community, Westway23 told Urban Dandy that it “is supporting community members and organisations currently facing challenges on, and in many cases eviction from, the 23 acres as a direct result of Westway Trust’s actions”.
On the fifth of July Westway23 held a demonstration attended by hundreds of people who marched along the route of the 23 acres. Children mixed with drummers, flamenco dancers, artists, teachers, bohemians, normals and Martin. This followed an earlier march to Holland Park Opera House, beneficiary of millions of pounds of public money, despite it being a loss maker.
Westway23 are active, drumming every Sunday on Portobello Green (weather permitting) and with regular Wednesday evening meetings at the Venture Centre. Keep up to date here: http://www.westway23.org/.
Metres away from the Westway on Ladbroke Grove, the KPH pub is under threat from private developers/speculators who want to build more flats for the affluent. Meanwhile, across the borough, children are being displaced in to insecure, inadequate temporary accommodation miles away as government cuts to local government budgets are deepened. Many families earn their poverty in insecure, under-paid jobs. In these circumstances, people rely on their culture to provide attachments and a sense of identity, worth and shared values; a sense of belonging.
Under such pressure, uncertainty and insecurity define the economic, political and family life of communities. It is appropriate that people look to the custodians of the 23 acres, the Westway Trust. But how will they respond? Their updated Portobello Village proposals are fresh off the press, see here and Urban Dandy has requested an interview. Watch this space.
Part two, “Community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities”
(Read part one, in which we explained what’s going on and how and why Westway23 was born, here).
Westway23 states that they are not opposed to change along the 23 acres of land set for upheaval under plans drawn up by the Westway Trust. Their protest isn’t against change, but against incongruent change implemented without due consideration for the community. Acting chair of Westway23 Niles Hailstones told me, “They (the Westway Trust) say ‘we had to do something’ – this is a disrespectful comment. They should have talked to the community at the beginning. It’s an abuse of power by the Westway Trust and the council”.
But the Westway Trust is big on celebrating the local community, I point out. “People put on clothes that say ‘community,’ but community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities” Niles responds, “look at the ‘About Us’ page on the Westway Trust website, look at the photo, does that represent the Westway Trust management team?”
I asked Niles how the area is changing more generally; “This area was known for its political and social conscience, everyone was in the same boat. Now, there’s millionaires living next to people signing on”.
Westway Trust states that it was “formed out of protest” but Westway23 points to their track record as concerning. “Look at Acklam, where Westway Trust started,” Niles tells me, “Acklam Hall, the playground – these were in the original mandate, but they no longer exist. They used the same language to get rid of them – ‘regeneration,’ ‘development’”.
“An era of music was born at Acklam that continues to enrich the area. This shows how resourceful we are. But they only see resource as meaning money, they don’t value our resources. We have access to resources that they can’t attract, like people who will agree to contribute to something worthwhile”.
“There’s an ideology behind all the plans – retail, private flats, office space are top of their list”.
On such gentrification, Sylvia Parnell of the Portobello Café Society states that “it’s what’s happening everywhere: people imposing their ideas on a community”.
Niles agrees: “They think they know better, it’s part of the colonial attitude. Gentrification refers to the gentry. The gentry is a class. So it’s not just about money, it’s a class battle. The elite got rich out of the enslavement and exploitation of African people and resources. That’s going on to this day and it’s flippant to think that it isn’t connected to everyday life”.
Westway23 is switched on to the dangers it perceives in gentrification, wherever it appears. Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser for the group explains how he sees the problem: “It’s a loss of diverse human cultures being able to stay in a place and exist with a sense of freedom and agency. It goes without saying that if people cannot feel comfortable, emotionally, socially or materially, then they will leave”.
And, how about our area specifically? “Here, it’s being exacerbated by the local council’s apparent mission to socially cleanse the area. We have traditionally had a great mix of people, many of whom belong to a socio-economic class at the lower end of the spectrum. Current planning intends quite clearly to alter the demographic with a programme of “regeneration” which means knocking down current social housing stock, replacing it with new buildings that will typically see the loss of open space, loss of community facilities and denser populations in what is already the most densely populated borough in the country. The resultant housing stock is likely to contain the usual mix of shared ownership and market rate properties – out of the reach of anyone on less than 70k annual salary. Social housing will be replaced with smaller units that many families will be unable to practically relocate to”.
Picking up on Niles’s point about class battle, Toby views what is happening as “a direct attack on our communities, wrapped up as ‘economic viability’ by those who do not live day to day with the realities of life in the Grove. Or Shepherds Bush. Or Brixton. Or Hackney and so on…” Westway23 is actively engaged with other, like minded organisations in these areas, he tells me.
“The wonders of our diverse and genuinely special community – and others across London – simply cannot survive in an authentic manner because we are forced to adapt to this economic juggernaut”.
And, in the face of such an economic force, how does he rate the performance of the Westway Trust?
“The Westway Trust has failed to provide any permanent or outstanding use of any space to celebrate and support the community. We actually see closures of art spaces and community children’s centres. We see inaccessible, dead space and 20-year services threatened with eviction. We have a sprawling sports centre that was bought with Lottery money; we have a monolithic and moody structure across 23 acres that has never been properly utilised as a space for the creativity that is inherent within its local population. And a specific section of the community – one that has given the area much of its magic – now has countless stories of marginalisation and outright discrimination”.
“What is worse….this has been the situation for over four decades”
Tom Charles for Urban Dandy London @tomhcharles, @urbandandyLDN
Part Three, on Westway23’s positive vision, coming soon